Outside of LaHaye and Jenkins, there is perhaps no more successful author of contemporary Christian thrillers than Joel C. Rosenberg. His “Last Jihad” series was a frightening, yet ultimately uplifting addition to the “end-of-days” canon of apocalyptic fiction. Through the skillful balance of bible prophecy and real world events, Rosenberg creates characters and stories that ring with the future echo of a world that could very well be our tomorrow. This masterful blend of reality and speculative fiction has served to transcend the Christian niche and brings a mainstream audience to the table.
In his latest book, “The Twelfth Imam”, Rosenberg departs from the world he created in “The Last Jihad” to ask a different question about how the world might face Armageddon. In the Book of Revelations it’s predicted that an “antichrist” will come into the world before Jesus returns. Made popular in both fiction and film over the years, that antichrist is, more often than not, portrayed as a politician or world leader. The foundation of Rosenberg’s story explores this prophecy from another angle – what if the antichrist appeared in the figure of the fabled 12th Imam found in the Islamic faith? A figure promising a one-world government under the guise of Islamic law. A man who could perform miracles as foretold in the Quran. It’s an interesting and disturbingly plausible path that leads quickly from where we are today to the end of the world.
At its heart, “The Twelfth Imam” follows one man, David Shirazi – the son of immigrants who escaped the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Fleeing to America, they raised David and his brothers in freedom. After the events of September 11th impact David personally, he finds his childhood has become a far too short prelude to what he sees as true his calling – hunting down Osama Bin Laden and bringing him to justice.
David eventually joins the CIA and spends years in Afghanistan searching for Bin Laden. Despite his progress, he is pulled from his assignment and dispatched to Iran. Faced with an American President who favors dialogue over decisive action, the leaders of Iran have accelerated their nuclear program. It’s feared that they are coming close to developing the first “Islamic Bomb”.
As they rush headlong towards planting the seeds of global war, a cleric appears who claims to be the Mahdi – the Twelfth Imam – the one who is to unite the Muslim world and usher in a new era of global Muslim dominance. This man performs the miracles and signs that are foretold, and the supreme leader of Iran realizes that the 12th Imam truly has appeared.
While David is working to understand the events around him, a physicist at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Najjar Malik, is learning that what he thought was a civilian nuclear program is anything but that. As Najjar comes to terms with the reality of his position, his heart begins to question his faith, and search for truth in the word of God. After a late night visitor changes his and his family’s lives forever, he moves inexorably towards a meeting with David and a role in determining the future of the world.
This is a book that defies quick and easy labels. If you’ve read Rosenberg before, you know he has a voice for geopolitical issues. He is a very accomplished thriller writer. Taken just on the surface as a “hard action” novel, “The Twelfth Imam” would be well worth the read and highly entertaining.
But it’s so much more than that. Rosenberg uses the story to explore both the Muslim and Christian faiths. He ably walks the fine tightrope between respecting the customs and cultures of the Middle East while not flinching from his indictment of radical Islam and how it has perverted those very same customs and cultures. While examining the differences between those cultures and Western culture, he still drives home the point that all people have an innate yearning to be free, and all people have the seeds of spiritual fulfillment in their heart.
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s this – as I got ready to read the last chapter, I was dismayed to find I had already finished the last chapter. What I thought would be a grand conclusion to the story was instead, just the author’s afterword. I was left flat, like a man who finds out the soup IS the main course – there will be no lamb and there will most certainly be no dessert. Were this a television show, and I knew I could come back in seven short days for another helping, that would have been one thing. But knowing it will be a year or more before I can dive back into that world – well, it’s disappointing. I guess, in some way, that’s a backhanded compliment for Mr. Rosenberg – you got me hooked, now give me more!
Ending aside, “The Twelfth Imam” is a compelling book. Well written and well researched, it’s a timely story for the world we find ourselves in today. I enjoy “end of the world” stories immensely – but this is a bird of another color. Aliens and zombies are easy to deal with in the abstract. Current events mixed with a plausible path to Armageddon hits a little closer to home.
How much of “The 12th Imam” is fact and how much is fiction? I will leave that to you to decide – but consider this; Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear bomb today. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said publicly he is committed to hastening the return of the 12th Imam. Just last week, Louis Farrakhan told a crowd the 12th Imam (The Mahdi) is present in the world today. The Middle East is caught up in a social and political conflagration that does not have a certain outcome. Thrown in to that mix, a figure such as the 12th Imam could quickly and radically change the face of the region; ushering in a new Muslim Caliphate. Even if he is a figure of myth – if enough people, especially those in power, believe he is real – does it matter? Won’t he (whoever “he” ends up being) be powerful just by virtue of that faith? It’s a sobering thought. A sobering thought indeed.
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